J.J. Barea, one of the most beloved players in the history of the Dallas Mavericks, believes his former team have a tough decision to make regarding Kyrie Irving this summer.
The now retired Puerto Rican, who was a key figure in the Mavericks’ NBA title run alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd in 2011, acknowledges the trade deadline signing that brought Irving to Dallas from Brooklyn in February did not pay off but that there could still be an argument made for re-signing the 31-year-old guard.
Speaking to Arab News to help promote the highly anticipated preseason games between the Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves in Abu Dhabi in October, Barea weighed in on the Irving dilemma.
“I think you could go either way,” he said. “I think Kyrie is such a special talent that maybe you could try it again. And maybe if you find the right pieces to put around Kyrie and Luka (Doncic), it could be really, really good.
“And you also could go opposite, you could let him go or try to do a sign-and-trade and get some good players for him and go that route. But it’s a tough decision. Kyrie is a special talent, there’s nothing like that in the NBA, so you gotta figure it out.”
Brunson departure hurt Mavs
The Mavericks went from being conference finalists last year to missing out on the playoffs altogether this season. Their campaign ended on a sour note as they were handed a $750,000 fine for resting players in an elimination game against the Chicago Bulls in order to improve their chances of keeping their first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Barea believes losing Jalen Brunson to the New York Knicks was the key reason behind the Mavericks’ struggles this season.
“I played with Brunson, I knew how good he was, how good he is. And I knew that really was going to hurt the Mavericks,” said Barea, who spent two stints in Dallas, from 2006-11 and from 2014-20.
“I didn’t know that it was going to hurt that much. And then I think the Mavericks, you know, this year was tough. They were trying to figure it out, trying to put things together and the NBA is so hard, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. And then they tried with Kyrie too, they made the trade there and it didn’t work out either.
“But I know Mark (Cuban) and I know Jay (Jason Kidd) and Dirk (Nowitzki) and they’re all going to be trying as hard as they can this summer to put a team together, a better team this year and compete again.”
Resting players ‘not a good look’
Tanking is nothing new in the NBA and many teams have tried, and will continue to try, to game the system to secure higher draft picks.
“As a competitor, as a player, I would never want to do that. I’m always trying to win no matter what,” Barea said.
“But I haven’t been on the other side. I haven’t been in the business side. It’s never a great look, to do that. It’s not good for the NBA, it’s not good for Dallas, it’s not good for the players.
“But it seems to happen every year. Some people you can see it. Some people you can’t see it. But that’s something the NBA knows and they’re trying to get away from.”
Barea is certain Abu Dhabi is in for a treat as the Mavericks and Timberwolves make their way to the UAE capital this autumn for two games at the Etihad Arena.
The NBA Abu Dhabi Games enjoyed a successful first year when the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks put on a show in front of a sellout crowd last October at the Yas Island state-of-the-art venue.
This time, basketball fans in the Emirates are eagerly waiting to welcome Doncic and co. and can register their interest here in anticipation of further news about ticket sales.
Barea has hailed the NBA’s efforts to growing the game by visiting new places, like the UAE, and described Dallas and Minnesota as “two fun teams that are trying to get to the next level.”
“Next year is really important for both of them,” he said. “They’re talented teams, you’re going to see some All-Stars in both teams. You’re going to see a little bit everything there.”
‘Big step for Abu Dhabi’
When Barea helped the Mavericks defeat a Miami Heat side led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosch in the 2011 NBA Finals, he became just the second Puerto Rican player, after Butch Lee in 1980, to win an NBA championship.
He reveled in his role as an icon for his nation and believes the UAE could one day witness an NBA player emerge from its ranks.
“I think it’s the best. The best thing to be able to play in the NBA and represent Puerto Rico at the same time,” Barea said of his role in growing the sport back home.
“For me, it was special. All the kids that were watching. Now basketball is huge in Puerto Rico. Everybody’s trying to make it to the NBA.
“So I think this is a big step for Abu Dhabi, for all the kids over there, to get to see the NBA up close or to see players there. I think it’s going to help them in the future. And I think in the long run it’s going to really help have somebody in the NBA.”
Barea was still playing for the Mavericks during Doncic’s first two seasons in Dallas and has a close relationship with the Slovenian superstar.
“Luka is a simple kid, he just wants to have fun,” Barea said.
“He loves playing basketball. He’s a big guy. You see him on TV, but he’s bigger than you see. He’s got skills with both hands. He’s got everything on his package, you know? But yeah, he’s still learning. He’s still growing. He’s still got to find ways to make his teammates better. And I think he’s only going to get better.
“But he’s a great kid, good heart. He just wants to have fun with his teammates.”
Barea has his sights set on becoming a coach in the NBA and would love a role within the Mavericks organization given his history with the team. He worked for the Mavs as a player development coach in 2021 and could be primed for a position on Kidd’s coaching staff.
Asked if he could pick one player he would love to coach, Barea said: “I’d go with the new kid that’s coming out, Victor Wembanyama.
“I’m starting the process now. I wanted to take a couple of years off but I’m starting to get the itch back and I want to try. It’s something that I really want to do. I know I’m good at it. I know it comes natural. So I really want to do it.
“And a player right now, I would love to coach (Denver star Nikola) Jokic. To have Jokic on my team, I think it’ll be a lot easier. We’ll see, I’m starting the process and we’ll see where I, if I find a good situation, I will start my coaching career.”
‘Tatum gets super aggressive like Kobe’
Jokic has been in beast mode throughout the ongoing playoffs and pulled off a third consecutive triple-double in the Nuggets’ Game 1 victory over the Lakers in the Western Conference finals on Tuesday.
Speaking to Arab News earlier on Tuesday, Barea shared his views on what stood out to him the most in the NBA playoffs so far and made some interesting predictions in the process.
“I think Miami making it all the way to the semifinals is huge. I wasn’t expecting that. And they’re playing some great basketball,” said the 38-year-old former point guard.
“The Lakers against Golden State, Golden State against Sacramento; those two series were really good to watch. I love to watch Denver play, I like Jokic. I don’t know, I just love him. And then I think it’s going to be Boston versus Denver in the finals. And I think Boston is going to win, but we’ll see.
“And I wouldn’t mind Denver winning either. But I think Boston made it to the finals last year. They’re playing better this year. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”
Barea has been impressed by Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who blew away the Philadelphia 76ers by scoring 51 points in Game 7 of their tightly contested semifinal series last week, likening the Celtics four-time All-Star to the late Kobe Bryant.
“I liked the game before that,” Barea said. “He (Tatum) was struggling and then he just kept trying and kept trying to figure it out. And I think that carried over to the next one. But I just like to see him super aggressive, playing like Kobe, you know, like, ‘I don’t care, I’m going to try my best and be super aggressive,’ and he did it.”
Tatum was unable to guide the Celtics to victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference finals against Miami on Wednesday night, as the Heat started the series with a valuable win in Boston’s TD Garden.
- The 2023 NBA Abu Dhabi Games between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves will take place on Oct. 5 and 7 at Etihad Arena on Yas Island. To register your interest, click here.